CFL effort may be gaining momentum

January 04, 1994|By Ken Murray and Jon Morgan | Ken Murray and Jon Morgan,Staff Writers

With prospects for an NFL team still in the formative stage, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is warming to the idea of putting a CFL team in Memorial Stadium next summer.

Schmoke said yesterday he has directed preliminary discussions between James L. Speros, a Potomac, Md., native who wants to bring a CFL expansion team to Baltimore, and the Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates the stadium.

"We have also encouraged Mr. Speros to talk to the community [around the stadium] . . . to get a sense of how it would react should a decision be made to bring the CFL to Baltimore," Schmoke said.

There are other indications the CFL bid could be gaining momentum in Baltimore:

* Speros has opened an office at 250 W. Pratt Street, and says he has had 14 people on his payroll since December, including three scouts who have worked the bowl games. He also says he has spent $500,000 on his CFL effort.

* One of his investors, former Colt Tom Matte, said without hesitation yesterday a CFL team will begin play here in July for the 1994 season. "I think it's time we came out of the closet," he said. "I've been a staunch advocate of getting an NFL team here. But there's a time to say the ship's gone down, and the ship has gone down. I think our best opportunity in Baltimore is to be embraced by somebody who wants us."

* Speros' leading coaching candidate, Don Matthews, resigned last week as head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders after taking the team to the CFL playoffs the past two seasons. Speros and Matthews denied they have an agreement for Matthews to coach here next season.

"It wouldn't be smart to hire a coach without a lease," Speros said. "But we're ready to move forward."

The only thing lacking in Speros' bid to restore pro football to Baltimore is a lease to play at Memorial Stadium. Despite speculation a deal was close, Schmoke said his priority still is to ,, get an NFL team.

"There is no agreement with the city," Schmoke said of CFL reports. "We are proceeding with real conditional discussions, and the condition is the absence of the NFL."

Schmoke said his reluctance to embrace the CFL stems in part from the concern a CFL team might preclude the arrival of an NFL team.

"I need to know whether there's a real possibility of having a team come here, because if having a CFL team occupy the stadium for a while is a major deterrent to who is likely to move, I don't want to provide that deterrent," he said.

Schmoke said he has spoken with a representative of an investor group that is exploring the option of bringing a team to Baltimore. He would not identify the group or the team, although New England Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein is accepting offers for his team and the Los Angeles Rams have expressed a desire to look around.

Two different sets of deadlines complicate the process, though. The CFL has given Speros a Jan. 15 deadline to accept his application to play in 1994. And the legislature has given the Maryland Stadium Authority a 60-day period to explore an NFL relocation. That period would run until the middle of February.

Because of the time conflict, Schmoke directed preliminary talks between Speros and Marlyn J. Perritt, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Speros would not comment on those discussions.

Speros, a Virginia businessman who co-founded Champions Development Corp., has given Schmoke a lease proposal that calls for his group of investors to pay for renovations to Memorial Stadium. Matte, however, said the investors would like public funding for the improvements.

"We will do a lot of the renovations ourselves, but hope to get some help," he said.

Along with Matte, other members of Speros' board of directors include former NFL cornerback and CBS broadcaster Irv Cross, former Maryland basketball and NBA player Len Elmore and Speros' brother, Pete. Matte, Cross and Pete Speros would be investors; Elmore would not.

James Speros, the majority investor, said Matthews was "the best guy available" to coach the team, which he intends to call the Colts.

From Regina, Saskatchewan, Matthews said he resigned to explore other football opportunities, although he declined to say what they were. Reportedly, he is not a candidate in Las Vegas, which enters the CFL next season, or Boston, which hopes to field a team next year. Orlando, Fla., where Matthews coached the World League of American Football's Thunder in 1991, is a possibility if it gets a team.

Coaching a team from its inception holds some intrigue, he said.

"It would be the dream of every coach to start a team from expansion on up," Matthews said. "Right now, I'm totally unemployed. I think I have a good coaching record, so I don't think I will continue to be unemployed."

Matthews has a nine-year record of 91-53-1 in the CFL, winning the Grey Cup with the British Columbia Lions in 1985.

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